The life of a pirate has a romanticized aura – most stories paint a picture of swashbuckling men who sailed through the high seas unafraid to take what they wanted, the endings were never quite as happy though. Would it surprise you to learn that a lot of pirates actually had the blessing of their government?
Beginning in the 1500s, enterprising sailors realized that there was another method of earning money other than carrying passengers or cargo over the high seas. Many men who began their trade on the sea in a legitimate way soon realized that they could make a ton of money by hiring themselves out as privateers.
Privateers were sailors who were given letters of permission (called letters of marque) from their governments to attack foreign vessels in order to secure more ships, men, and money for their national fleet. Technically, these people weren’t considered pirates – privateers were a legal and useful tool during war time. Because of their similar qualifications, there are many privateers on the list of the richest pirates in history, as they brought in tons of gold and bounty – both for their country and for themselves.
Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy
Not a lot is known about Samuel Bellamy’s life. His early travels took him to Massachusetts, where he met the young Maria Hallett. Although he had a wife and child at home in England, he fell madly in love with Maria. He left Massachusetts, vowing to come back and marry her when he had earned enough money to support her.
After many months with the Navy, Bellamy felt restless and unsatisfied, so he joined a pirate ship captained by Benjamin Hornigold. Within a few months, Hornigold’s crew revolted and installed Bellamy as their new captain. In one year, they robbed 50 ships, and only a year later, they hit the jackpot. They boarded a ship called Whydah, which was packed full of valuable cargo – enough for the entire crew to retire on. Forbes estimates that Bellamy’s share of this haul would equal roughly $120 million dollars today.